" 'Bout 175," Nobles answered haughtily. He had kept a share of the proceeds to supplement his payday. Some boxers on the card were being paid only in tickets.
Gelb smiled at The Jedi in a doting way, as he might have at a prize pupil. "You see?" he said. "Isn't he personable? And he generates lots of excitement at the Blue."
"If I ever get a main event over there," The Jedi said, shaking his head in awe at the prospect, "I'll probably never shut up!"
Even as Nobles spoke, a carpenter at the Blue Horizon was busy assembling the ring for the night's festivities. He hauled in pieces from a truck parked on the sidewalk outside, and a couple of teenagers from the neighborhood helped him with the screws, bolts and ropes. The temperature in the auditorium was about 90° and climbing. In an office downstairs Carol fielded calls from people who wanted to reserve tickets. She would be stationed at the phone all night, while Vernoca would supervise the concession stand and grill the hot sausages.
Luddy DePasquale rolled into the Blue Horizon around 6 p.m., carrying a briefcase that held about $10,000 in cash to pay the boxers. Luddy gripped the handle tightly. It might as well have been chained to his wrist. His anxious look was due less to the money than to the lousy weather, though. The tail end of Hurricane Eduardo beat a tattoo on the windows and rattled the concertina wire atop the fences, and Luddy worried that the crowd would stay away. That was bad news, because the DePasquales needed a near sellout to break even. Truth was, they lost a little on most promotions and consoled themselves with the hope that someday a pearl of uncommon worth would drop into their laps, which is the same dream shared by everyone in boxing, from veteran trainers to lowly cutmen.
Peter DePasquale, Luddy's older brother, stood guard by a wooden drawer that held the ticket revenue. Where Luddy is lean and vaguely haunted, with a pencil-thin mustache, Peter is compact, curly-haired and outgoing, an ad copywriter who fell in love with the fight game as a Golden Gloves boxer and later wrote The Boxer's Workout, a guide to fitness. Four things can ruin a fighter, Peter likes to say: peer pressure, drugs, injuries and women. There is a symbolic story he tells that sums up his affection for the characters in the sport.
"I managed this boxer once, he was undefeated, like 8-0 or 9-0—that's when they always blow it—and he's set up for a big fight, but he informs me he has to cancel because he's got a bad cold," Peter said with amusement. "So I ran to the corner, bought a bottle of St. Joseph Cough Syrup for Children, washed off the label, dumped out most of it and diluted the rest with water. 'This is from France,' I told my guy. 'It isn't even legal in this country! Drink some before the weigh-in, then drink a double dose in the afternoon.' So he followed my instructions, knocked out the other guy in 45 seconds of the first round, dashed over, kissed me between the eyes and said, 'Thanks, Peter. It was the double dose that did it.' "
It turned out the wind and rain didn't scare off all the patrons. The fans began streaming in as soon as the Blue Horizon's doors opened at seven, men and women and a few kids, about half of them white and half of them black, and all of them mingling freely. Their voices created a happy, excited babble until it was drowned out by a sound system on the stage that blared an ear-splitting mix of disco, rap, hip-hop and R&B. The noise level rose rapidly, courtesy of the old Moose Lodge acoustics, and the ring seemed almost to glow amid the anticipation. The ropes and the canvas were blue, and so, too, was the light inside the arena—an eerie, dusky blue that echoed the muted color of the evening sky.
Four vanloads of fans arrived from rural Pennsylvania to root for their hometown lad, Ryan (Rocky) Poletti, an unbeaten cruiserweight, and a shocking number of people sported white satin jackets with GERALD "THE JEDI" NOBLES stitched in script on the back. And who should be roaming about in the audience, shaking hands and soaking up the atmosphere, but The Jedi in the flesh! He was still in his street clothes and grinning his toothy grin. "I'm full of adrenaline, man," he boasted to nobody in particular. "There's a little monster in me that's dyin' to burst out." He smacked himself in the palm and laughed. "Here comes the little monster! He's ready!"
Nobles headed for the motley dressing rooms upstairs just before the show started at 7:45 p.m. At ringside, everything was perfect—the referee, the three judges, the announcer in his shiny tux, the leggy ring girl balanced precariously on her high heels, her smile fixed and ivory-bright.